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Domestic workers in New York are protected from sexual harassment

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New York offers more protection against sexual harassment than federal law.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, women who work for small businesses have no federal protection from sexual harassment.


That's because employers with fewer than 15 employees enjoy a "small firm exemption" that shields them from liability under Title VII. The exemption was added to the Civil Rights Act to lift heavy government regulations that were weighing down small businesses. However, that trade-off has proven harsh for women who work as housekeepers and nannies, and has left many domestic workers across the nation in dire straits.

Recently, more than 200 domestic and farm workers gathered on Capitol Hill to draw attention to the reality that sexual harassment continues to haunt women and that immediate protections are necessary.

Domestic workers struggle with sexual harassment

Many of the stories reported by Washington, D.C., demonstrators involved women who rank among the most economically vulnerable. They take jobs cleaning houses, picking crops, and caring for other people's children. Employers recognize quickly that these workers are in desperate financial straits and don't have many options if sexually harassed.

New York's Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights

Although women who work in large companies also suffer sexual harassment, they do have multiple legal options. They can report such incidents to supervisors, file complaints with their human resources departments, or take formal grievances to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Many cases are mediated or reach out-of-court settlements. Others move onto formal civil litigation in the courts. Nannies and housekeepers rarely have these options.

In New York, however, the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights gives nannies and housekeepers protection under the New York State Human Rights Law. It specifically allows domestic workers to file complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights, as well as lawsuits in civil court, if they suffer sexual harassment or racial discrimination.

The Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights provides other protections as well, including mandatory paid vacation after one year of labor with the same employer, and is just one of a handful of laws which afford individuals who work within New York State greater protections than federal statutes.

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